This post was the result of reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and Francis Chan’s Crazy Love at the same time. It got me thinking about death and, more importantly, life.
Originally published: 5/5/17
So I’ve been reading a lot about death the last couple days. Not intentionally. It’s just happened to come up in a couple books I’m working through this week.
This has resulted in my thinking about death. And the time before death. And how that time should be spent. You know, now that I think about it, this reminds me of one of my semi-recent posts: Borrowed Time.
Anyway, back to today. Let me start by giving you a sampling of what I’ve been reading and then tell you what’s running through my very scattered brain.
The first book is Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. No, I didn’t just pick it up because the cover looks cool – it’s for school. To be honest though, I don’t totally dread reading it. Aurelius isn’t all that boring.
Meditations is a book of personal thoughts, resolutions, and observations of the world from the worldview of a Stoic philosopher/emperor shortly after the time of Jesus. Aurelius’ goal was to live a virtuous and moral life. Here are his thoughts on death:
Death: something like birth, a natural mystery, elements that split and recombine.
Not an embarrassing thing. Not an offense to reason, or our nature. (Meditations, Book 4)
People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.
But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do you? And I don’t just mean when you’re dead, but in your own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable? (Meditations, Book 4)
Those two excerpts basically cover Aurelius’ views on death as told in his Meditations. According to him, death is not something to be feared and there is absolutely no use in trying to get people to remember you and your fame.
The second book I’ve been reading this week that brought up the subject of death when I least expected it is Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I’m not very far into it yet, but his perspective on death and “posthumous fame” still gave me pause.
In about fifty years (give or take a couple of decades), no one will remember you. Everyone you know will be dead. Certainly no one will care what job you had, what car you drove, what school you attended, or what clothes you wore. This can be terrifying or reassuring, or maybe a mix of both. (Crazy Love, ch 2)
That’s pretty straightforward. The chapter containing these sentences is about how everything and every time is about God – including the miniscule piece of eternity that our lives occupy.
Reading these books at the same time has left me thinking a lot about death, as I mentioned before. But it hasn’t been depressing. In fact, the result of all my meditation on death has been that I’ve been thinking about life a lot. Particularly my life. It may be an easy question, but who is my life supposed to glorify?
Now, Aurelius was not a Christian. In fact, even though his book is full of virtues and morals, he heavily persecuted the Christians. It was a crime not to worship Caesar and guess who the Christians didn’t worship? His answer is that your life isn’t really meant to glorify anyone. You go about your business, try to do the right things, and eventually die.
Francis Chan on the other hand is a pastor. He is so passionate about his faith. So his answer is that our lives are supposed to glorify God – even though they are incredibly short in light of eternity. He uses the illustration of all of us being extras in a movie about God to make his point.
We have only our two-fifths-of-a-second-long scene to live. I don’t know about you, but I want my two-fifths of a second to be about my making much of God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That is what each of our two-fifths of a second is about. (Crazy Love, ch 2)
Question: Who is my life supposed to glorify?
Harder Question: Who does my life glorify?
Harder Answer: Usually me.
It’s not natural to instantly give God the glory or to act in every little thing in a way that honors Him. But that’s what we’ve got to strive to do. God is too great and wonderful for us to make this about us! Even Aurelius realized that fame and glory don’t actually do us any good. So if they’re not going to help us out anyway, we may as well make our lives about God, right?
But that’s not how it’s supposed to work either. We don’t just glorify God because our glory won’t last. Our lives should be lived as a response to everything He’s done for us. For me, that includes salvation, putting me in the beautiful mountains of Virginia, piecing together my family so that I understand His picture of adoption, letting me be homeschooled, and tons and tons of other stuff. What does it mean for you?
When I think about all the stuff God has given me in my life that I don’t deserve, it makes me want to live for Him. Yes, I still mess up. All. The. Time. But His grace means I can try again. I don’t have to stay down.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from Francis Chan, because he said it well.
The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His. It is His movie, His world, His gift. (Crazy Love, ch 2)